“I will see her,” returned a dogged voice. “If she’s too start-up and mighty to come down and answer a question or two, why I’ll find my way on to her. Here we are a shameful crowd of us, swindled out of our own, told there’s nobody we can speak to; nobody here but the young lady, and she must not be troubled. She didn’t find it trouble to help to spend our money. She has got no honor and feelings of a lady, if she don’t come and speak to us. There.”
Repressing her rebellious emotions, Lady Isabel glided partly down the staircase, and softy called to the butler. “What is all this?” she asked. “I must know.”
“Oh, my lady, don’t go amongst those rough men! You can’t do any good; pray go back before they see you. I have sent for Mr. Carlyle, and expect him here momentarily.”
“Did Papa owe them all money?” she said, shivering.
“I’m afraid he did, my lady.”
She went swiftly on; and passing through the few stragglers in the hall, entered the dining-room, where the chief mass had congregated, and the hubbub was loudest. All anger, at least external anger, was hushed at her sight. She looked so young, so innocent, so childlike in her pretty morning dress of peach-colored muslin, her fair face shaded by its falling curls, so little fit to combat with, or understand their business, that instead of pouring forth complaints, they hushed them into silence.
“I heard some one calling out that I ought to see you,” she began, her agitation causing the words to come forth in a jerking manner. “What did you want with me?”
Then they poured forth their complaints, but not angrily, and she listened till she grew sick. There were many and formidable claims; promissory notes and I O Us, overdue bills and underdue bills; heavy outstanding debts of all sorts, and trifles, comparatively speaking, for housekeeping, servants’ liveries, out-door servants’ wages, bread and meat.
What was Isabel Vane to answer? What excuse to offer? What hope or promise to give? She stood in bewilderment, unable to speak, turning from one to the other, her sweet eyes full of pity and contrition.
“The fact is, young lady,” spoke up one who bore the exterior of a gentleman, “we should not have come down troubling you—at least, I can answer for myself—but his lordship’s men of business, Warburton & Ware, to whom many of us hastened last evening, told us there would not be a shilling for anybody unless it could be got from furniture. When it comes to that, it is ‘first come, first served,’ and I got down by morning light, and levied an execution.”
“Which was levied before you came,” put in a man who might be brother to the two upstairs, to judge by his nose. “But what’s such furniture as this to our claims—if you come to combine ’em? No more than a bucket of water is to the Thames.”
“What can I do?” shivered Lady Isabel. “What is it you wish me to do? I have no money to give you, I—”